Long term impact of Wikimedians in Residence (2018)/background

Wikimedia UK

Wikimedia UK believes that open access to knowledge is a fundamental right, and a driver for social and economic development. A registered charity, we work with the Wikimedia Projects such as Wikipedia to enable people and organisations to contribute to a shared understanding of the world through the democratic creation, distribution and consumption of knowledge. We are committed to the ideal of a world in which every single human being can freely share in the sum of all knowledge, and believe that here in the UK, we can play a unique and important role in realising that vision.

We work in partnership with organisations from the cultural and education sectors and beyond in order to unlock content, remove barriers to knowledge, develop new ways of engaging with the public and enable learners to benefit fully from the educational potential of the Wikimedia projects.

Our programmes are guided by three strategic goals:

  • Increase the quality and quantity of coverage of subjects that are currently underrepresented on Wikipedia and the other Wikimedia projects
  • Contribute to the development of open knowledge in the UK, by increasing understanding and recognition of the value of open knowledge and advocating for change at an organisational, sectoral and public policy level
  • Support the use of the Wikimedia projects as important tools for education and learning in the UK


Wikimedian in Residence programme background

Wikimedian in Residence (WIR) programme is one of the key contributors to our mission by building partnerships with external institutions. The programme is made up of individual fixed-term residencies organised and facilitated by Wikimedia UK in partnership with other organisations. The project is primarily delivered by a Resident, recruited and hosted by the partner institution with support and input from Wikimedia UK. Within this placement, the Resident delivers a wide range of activities as guided by the goals of the project. They can work on facilitating and guiding content improvements on Wikimedia projects, and crucially, serve as an ambassadors for open knowledge within the host organisation and beyond.

There isn’t an ideal type of a host organisation - the programme can work for any institution with a scope to work within open knowledge. This could be a content holding organisation, an umbrella/membership body supporting its members to work on open knowledge, or an advocacy organisation.

The resident’s activities could include:

  • Advocating for open knowledge and providing advice on the relevant policies, systems and processes which would allow greater engagement with open knowledge. Raising awareness of open knowledge in the sector.
  • Supporting communities towards advanced digital literacy.
  • Designing and delivering training to enable people to contribute their knowledge and expertise to Wikimedia projects.
  • Working with an institution's staff team to explain the way that Wikimedia projects work and how they might be able to contribute, using the institution’s resources and content. This can be achieved through events, workshops, case studies and other forms of explanatory material and documentation.
  • Working with staff to identify priority areas of Wikipedia and sister projects that could be enriched with resources and knowledge from public library, museum or gallery collections.
  • Producing guidelines on contributing to Wikimedia projects.

The WIR projects in the UK have been run with varying degrees of support and supervision from Wikimedia UK since the first ever WIR position at the British Museum in 2010, as well as ARKive WIR in 2011. In 2012, Wikimedia UK sought to build on these successes with a systematic programme of residencies supported by the newly-established Wikimedia UK office. In this light the British Library residency, which began in May 2012, was a transition case where Wikimedia UK staff were progressively more involved with project delivery. We gradually developed documentation that could be used to support subsequent residencies, such as a partnership agreement clarifying expectations towards the project on both sides including expected outcomes. The British Library project also helped us understand what skills are needed for a successful WIR; as while technical skills were initially seen as the most valuable, it became clear that facilitation, advocacy and knowledge transfer skills were even more important. Over 2013-14 we added job descriptions, inductions, monthly reporting templates, review meetings and other mechanisms to support, monitor and evaluate residencies.

Since that point, residencies have been preceded by in-depth partnership discussions to establish strategic and cultural synergies. This gives rise to developing project aims, which forms the basis of the partnership agreement and job description for the resident. To help with knowledge transfer and sharing best practice, we organise extensive inductions for newly appointed residents and networking with other residents as well as the Wikimedia community. The anticipated programme outcomes form the basis of regular programme reviews, allowing for more focused evaluation.


Resourcing

Each residency is supported by a Wikimedia UK Project Coordinator and the rest of the staff team, providing training, guidance, knowledge exchange, promotion and materials. Many of the early residencies were seed funded by Wikimedia UK (to cover the resident’s salary and programme expenses), but increasingly this cost has been met by host organisations, or sourced through external fundraising.


2014 programme review

After two years of running the programme, in 2014 we delivered a research project which focused on improvements in efficiency and effectiveness of residencies while they were being run. The aim was to improve our delivery of the programme by examining experiences of the residents while they delivered their projects, and the experiences of host institutions in setting up and managing the projects.

The learning from that review fed into operational changes to how Wikimedia UK sets up, manages and supports Wikimedians in Residence in the UK. The key findings were:

  • Longer residencies are more impactful. Residencies should be six months long at minimum for small institutions and 9-12 months minimum for larger organisations with an ambition of changing the institution’s culture.
  • Wikimedians in Residence need dedicated Wikimedia support to be effective; this could include in-depth Wikimedia induction and training, coordination and knowledge exchange between residents - including in-person meetings, support for using wiki metrics tools. The host institutions would benefit from more support at the set up stage to set clear expectations.
  • Tighter monitoring process helps in managing project’s progress and in identifying outcomes. Wikimedia UK should regularly meet with the residents and hosts to discuss progress.
  • Sharing of advice, information and best practice between institutions and between residents would strengthen the overall programme and reduce duplication of effort.
  • Each residency should have individually set goals, rather than having the same set for everybody.

Communication, training, tactfulness and independence are amongst key resident skills (beyond Wikimedia technical abilities).

This project helped clarify our thinking about the programme, and how it should be delivered. It focused on improving efficiency and increasing outputs, rather than examining potential impact and ways of sustaining it.